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When Sudbury started to plan their activity for Heritage Open Days 2021 it seemed obvious that the towns silk heritage should have a part to play. With so many from the local community having links or associations with Sudbury’s silk industry both today and in the past, it is a natural focus for the towns heritage celebrations.

Celebrating Silk on the 11th - 12th September will include four talks held in the Assembly Room and five guided walks around the town.

The talks are an opportunity to learn more about the weaving of this beautiful cloth made with the skills and expertise of local people who for generations have created fabrics recognised around the world for their exquisite quality. The guided walks will take you on a journey around the town opening your eyes to landmarks and architectural references unlocking the stories behind Sudburys rich silk heritage.

To find out more about each talk and walk taking place over the weekend and how to book your tickets have a read of the detailed Celebrating Silk programme below.

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Restoring Historic Silks in East Anglia  

Date: 11th September

Time: 10:30

Speaker: Natalie Jones, Humphries Weaving

Humphries Weaving share their decades of experience designing and weaving custom fabrics, including the stunning silk damasks created for local historic houses including Holkham Hall, Blickling Hall, Felbrigg Hall and Audley End.


Guests will have the opportunity to view a selection of fabrics woven here in Sudbury, alongside images of them in situ at locations throughout East Anglia. As well as highlighting finished decorative schemes, Humphries Weaving will offer insights into the fabric development process and how they work in collaboration with historic house owners and curatorial teams to achieve authentic reproductions.


With all steps being carried out here in Sudbury, Humphries Weaving will take you through their entire design and weaving process; incorporating archival research, the importance of hand-drawing for accurate replication, the selection of weave patterns, the development of custom colours, and finally to the moment when all of these elements come together on the loom.


This is a unique opportunity to gain an understanding of the world-renowned custom fabric business through esteemed Historic House and National Trust projects completed here in East Anglia.    

After the talk, guests will have an opportunity to ask questions.

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Working in a Silk
Mill today

Date: 11th September

Time: 12:00

Speaker: Ceri Yates & Panel

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work at a mill that designs and weaves fabrics for luxury brands all around the world?  This is your chance to learn about the different roles and perhaps be inspired to join the textile industry. 


Stephen Walters may be 300 years old but the fabrics they produce are far from dated.  This is your opportunity to hear first-hand from people who work at the mill about their incredible fabric. 


There is so much that goes into the fabric manufacture from designing, dyeing, fabric inspection and weaving well as all the technical, engineering, IT, and accounting.  In this talk you will hear about the design and manufacturing process with images and behind the scenes footage.  Throughout the session, the panel of experts will be able to answer your questions.


Although discretion is key to the unique relationships Stephen Walters and David Walters have with their clients, there will also be an exciting opportunity to see some product that is made from fabric woven at the mill.


To get the most out of the session, you are encouraged you to submit your questions ahead for the panel to answer:

A Life in Silk Weaving

Date: 11th September

Time: 14:00

Speaker: John Sayers and Barbara Milligan

John Sayers and Barbara Milligan will tell us about their time at The Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company over the period from the late 1940’s to the late 1990’s.


John started as a 15-year-old, in 1949, on the bottom rung of the ladder and worked his way right up to the top, as Director holding a Royal Warrant by the time he retired in 1995.


Barbara trained at the Great Yarmouth College of Art and Design in the 1960’s and started as a design assistant in 1972, eventually becoming Design Director, and retiring in 1997.


Both have continued to be interested and involved in Sudbury’s silk industry and Barbara is working on a book about the Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company which will be entitled “Silk the Stuff of Legends, a Designer’s Story”, due out in the near future.


The period of their careers represents an interesting time of great technical transition from handweaving to computerised manufacture of silk fabrics.


It also spans a time of social change and Barbara and John will remind us what it was like to work in a Sudbury silk mill with many lively stories. 


John and Barbara will be in conversation with May Berkouwer, a Sudbury-based textile conservator. 


There will be time for the audience to ask questions and engage in conversation with our knowledgeable speakers.

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